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Andy Borowitz is a New York Times bestselling author and comedian who created the satirical column The Borowitz Report, which was acquired by The New Yorker in 2012 and has millions of readers around the world. He is the first-ever winner of the National Press Club's humor award, a two-time finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and a two-time host of the National Book Awards. He has been called a "Swiftian satirist" (The Wall Street Journal), "America's satire king" (The Daily Beast), "the funniest human on Twitter" (The New York Times) and "one of the funniest people in America" (CBS News Sunday Morning). His Kindle Single, ”An Unexpected Twist,” was a number one bestseller and Amazon's Best Kindle Single of 2012.
Andy: You spent many years working in advertising. What made you decide to set your first novel in that world? Is the real world of advertising both as funny—and sad—as your fictional version?
John Kenney: It’s a cliché but they say write about what you know. So for me it was write about advertising or the inside world of being a busboy. Advertising, certainly in the post-Mad Men era, seems to have an allure. People find it exciting and fast-paced. It certainly can be. But day to day it’s far more boring, certainly for creative people, whose days are spent sitting in an office trying to think of ideas, most of which aren’t that great (in my experience, anyway). I don’t think it’s a sad business at all but it can test one’s resolve. There are times when it’s easy to step outside of the project at hand and say, “Do we really need to be this serious about the new sodium-free ketchup spot?” That said, I liked it better than being a busboy.
Andy: What’s the biggest misconception about advertising, and why does that interest you as a novelist?
John: I think it’s how cool/sexy/exciting advertising is supposed to be. It certainly can be if you’re working on a big account like Nike or Apple or Coke. But most creatives—the copywriters and art directors who think up the ideas—work on far smaller accounts, with far smaller budgets. These people are just as committed and just as smart, and, frankly, doing a really great ad for Oreos is damned hard. Or diapers, as is the case for Fin, the main character in the book. He’s not a superstar. But successful characters don’t really interest me I like strugglers. I like confused people, damaged people. Strivers. Of course, that has nothing to do with my own experience as a decidedly non-superstar copywriter…
Andy: That brings me to the question most novelists hate to be asked: Who is the narrator Fin, and are there parts of you in his character?
John: Fin is like a lot of guys I knew in advertising. Smart, charming, funny. Guys you wanted to hang around with, have a beer with. He’s a lot smarter than I am and certainly more lost than I ever was, though God knows I had my confused days as a single guy in New York. To me the similarity—if there is one—isn’t merely the advertising connection, it’s the loss. My mother died when I was young. That was a defining event for me. And it’s only much later in my life that I realized how defining, how it colored everything for me. Fin shares that. But I think a lot of us carry around hidden traumas, those lasting pains. My editor sent me a quote from a letter that Ted Hughes wrote to his son. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. That’s Fin.
Andy: In the book, you write that we are the stories we tell ourselves. What is it that pushes Fin to finally tell himself the truth?
John: I think ultimately it’s his father’s death. Fin holds onto this anger and pain for so long, and I think it surprises him how sad his father’s death makes him, what a terrible waste it all was. It’s so hard to see your parents as people. We expect so much from them. I think he’s finally able to see his father for a flawed and traumatized man, to forgive him, to grieve for the life they never had together. He sees where not dealing with trauma and pain leads. And he doesn’t want that. I think he sees his own mortality. And it terrifies him. It makes him want to live.
Andy: Why do we meet Fin at this particular moment in his life?
John: Because he’s a mess. A job he doesn’t love. A recently canceled wedding. His estranged family and dying father. His cluelessness over Phoebe, his love interest. I think there comes a point where you realize the future isn’t limitless. For Fin it’s waking up on the eve of his fortieth birthday, being surprised by this, by the path life has taken. I think he sees that there’s a window that’s fast closing and that unless he acts differently, he’s going to be lost. He’s tried lying because the pain of the truth–of what he saw and experienced, of caring for someone who might leave–is simply too much for him. I think he finally sees that life is about courage. And the courage is to be honest with himself.
*Starred Review* Finbar Dolan, a copywriter churning out mediocre commercials for a Madison Avenue ad agency, views himself as if through a long camera lens, using denial and humor to avoid a painful past and feelings of failure. Christmas, for him, will be spent alone in Mexico—at least that’s the half-baked plan. Until his boss assigns Fin the impossible task of writing, prepping, producing, editing, and mixing a Super Bowl ad—over the holidays—for the world’s first eco-friendly diaper. Then his estranged brother tracks him down. Their abusive father is in the hospital, and it’s up to Fin to visit the dying man because no one else will. Over the course of a wacky commercial shoot, Fin learns about forgiving, loving, reconnecting with family, and finally telling the truth—to himself and others. Here is a close-up view of the advertising world, the artistic misfits who people it, and one man’s grasp at happiness. Written by a former copywriter and contributor to the New Yorker, Kenney’s debut novel is a masterful blend of wit and seriousness, stunning in its honesty. A novel sure to appeal to fans of Nick Hornby. --Diane HolcombSee all Editorial Reviews
John Kenny has written a timeless, yet timely piece. He's employed techniques every writer should take note of. Read morePublished 11 days ago by evan
First, the good: Kenney writes with ironic charm, and there is much that he gets right: Boston Irish, family, life's slippery vaporousness, the hunger for emotional fulfillment,... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Generic Personage
Loved the description of the nursery school and kindergarten in Brooklyn. And the Boston connectionPublished 2 months ago by Hill
At first I thought this book would be boring but it was interesting. Intertwined with the world of commercial advertising is life...the good, the bad and the uglyPublished 3 months ago by Barbara Giacomelli
Loved it even more than I thought I would. Not only a great insiders view of the silly world of Advertising (based on my experience!) but a wonderfully human story as well. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Foiled
An enjoyable read, especially if you work in the realm of marketing and advertising. And if you love New York.Published 10 months ago by Always Reading!
I read 3 books a week and wouldn't have chosen this book. My son did. a really really GREAT bookPublished 10 months ago by Robert J. Ruttenberg
Glad I won this book and didn't buy it. I guess I'm just not into advertising. I felt like he was living in a dream and talking to himself a lot of the times. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Sweet
I didn't make it through chapter 3. Flighty, too many characters chattering superficially. I was told by a New Yorker that it was 'smart and chic'
When I read the book club... Read more